Riding With a Bad Back


My riding boots. Can you guess which leg I ride with? Can you imagine how much attention and care it must take for a horse to adapt to a one-sided rider? Poor Bella!

I was cleaning house today and as I was moving these riding boots (pictured left) in order to sweep under them, I was shocked to notice the difference in “dirt pattern” on them. Notice the right boot has dirt and horse sweat  ground into the calf whereas the left boot shows none in this area.

I just stood there staring, This really brought home for me what I have been living with for at least the last 5 or 6 years, probably longer, and got me to wondering how it must have affected Bella, my main steady mount for all those years. As recently as 3-1/2 years ago I realized something must be wrong, because the back of my saddle always slipped to the right plus I had a lot of body pain while riding. Then I had a bad slip and fall not quite 3 years ago (not horse related) that took things over the edge.

What I learned from x-rays, due to complications from that fall, was that I not only had damaged nerves and discs, but a very marked curvature of the spine (scoliosis) which was no doubt at the seat of the earlier problems I had been noticing way before the fall. Other x-rays showed my right leg is anatomically shorter than my left. Not much, but a bit . . . and every little bit counts in body balance.

Me and my steady mount, Bella, during one of our 10-minute rides after my fall.

It took me quite a while to get back in the saddle after my fall. Oh I would get on, but after 5 or 10 minutes I was hurting so bad I had to get off. But I really, really wanted to be able to ride again, both in the ring and out on the trail.

So a year ago, when I heard about a certain therapeutic riding instructor in my area, Christina Savitsky, I had one of those magical ‘aha’ moments where you just “know” something is right — that she was the person who could help me ride again.

I called Christina, and the story gets better from that point on. She arrived on that first day with a big smile on her face, a huge cowboy hat on her head to shade her lovely face from our intense New Mexico sun, and an adorable 15-month-old hanging onto her back like a baby monkey. Before mounting up we started talking, and I told her what had happened: the fall, the scoliosis, etc., and before I could even get half of it out she said, “I can see it.” I said, “What?” She said, “I already saw it, when you had your back to me.” I was impressed.

Christina, schooling me in the ring in one our first sessions together, with little Mesa Ray hanging off her back.

Christina already had years under her belt of helping people like me, many with much worse conditions, so as far as she was concerned I was “not a problem.” We got me up on the horse and she began instructing me, gently and positively, in how to reposition my pelvis and back so as to sit in a more comfortable position. She also raised my stirrups so far up that I felt like I was sitting in a rocking chair (and kinda silly . . . but that takes pressure off the lower back, my problem area). 

I can ride an hour and a half now (haven’t tested longer), and I give all the credit to Christina. And I hope to do much more in the coming year or two.

I guess the message here — if anyone else with body problems is reading this blog — is to seek help. Don’t be shy or self-conscious. There are millions of people like us who have such problems! Find a kind someone who has experience and understands your problems and can help you “adjust” your body in such a way as to be successful in the saddle once again. Though I still am not a heavy rider as compared with most, and I ride only for pleasure, I am so very thankful I found the one angel disguised as a therapeutic-riding-instructor-cowgirl who could help me, Leta, get back to what I love so much!

So to all of you with pain and body problems:    Find your own riding angel!  He or she is out there!


If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more about Christina and what makes a good riding instructor, go HERE!



2 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Karen Kuester said,

    Leta, your issues with body alignment are constantly being addressed in the riding circles I’ve been in. Most of us are not “straight”, particularly the older we get. I have slight scoliosis and a compression fracture that will always create issues for me. Regular chiropractic sessions for the *rider* are as critical for correct, pain free riding as they are for the horse. I am guilty of being very diligent about getting regular body work for my horse(s), but sliding, even not getting it at all, for myself.

    A good chiropractic session for the rider is as important as what is done for the horse. Possibly more so. I know many riders who are aware enough of their body, they know as soon as they are out of alignment just by how their horses react to them. It’s amazing what a small adjustment can do!

  2. 2

    Madalyn said,

    Imagine how hard for the horse when he is also crooked or becomes crooked to adjust to the rider. Now both of you need regular body work to function.

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